Can you give me a realistic picture of being a landscape architect?

Hi,

I'm currently majoring in communications and considering a change over to landscape architecture (or getting a graduate degree in landscape architecture). I found out about the profession through the many pretty pictures I started to collect on my Tumblr. It looks and sounds so great!

I LOVE parks like the High Line and Paley Park and I would love to design projects like those. From some of the things I've looked up, it looks like if I major in landscape architecture I'll get to design sustainably-minded, beautiful urban spaces. And there are so many reports on how parks alleviate depression and certain well-design green spaces can combat climate change that the profession sounds really soul fulfilling.

Some people I've talked to said that if it's anything like architecture though I probably have an unrealistic view of the field.

So what is it like working in landscape architecture? Do you get to design the pretty, environmentally friendly city parks that I collect on tumblr? I joined hoping that your experiences can help convince to either go for it (or not)!

Thank you!

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If  you have to ask that question, then the profession is not for you.

I had a book of inspirational gardens I kept by my side my first year of college at a school of liberal arts that I had to stay in while arranging for a transfer (because I became aware of the field my senior year in high school, too late to go where I should have in the first place). I also dreamed of designing public gardens.

In looking back after a long career, I only got to design two sites I could call parks that were implemented, but a lot of other types... multi unit housing and small offices and campus sites, some satisfactory residences, and 1/2 of the time spent in a planning department reviewing whether submissions for permits met local landscape (zoning) requirements. The mix was not what I hoped or expected, but it was productive and served a social purpose I can feel satisfied with.

You might get lucky and land in a perfect context, or find yourself fulfilling your vision through a series of moves, but I would caution again assuming that the future will be a kind of fantasy fulfillment. It's a tough field, like most creative fields. I'd even say tough enough that it requires a kind of passion. Maybe they all do, but I think some are more embedded, come not only with more public understanding but also with a higher rate of hiring related to education, like maybe dental hygienist. 

Some people need to live their passion, some are more adaptable and can be just as happy in pursuing  a "near but not perfect" fit because of the greater stability in a trade-off. Only you know your own personality.

A realistic entry-mid level LA is a lot of overtime, some sleepless nights, burning out, and some feeling of being a worthless tool. Oh and several years of eating rice and beans because you have to pay off your student loan debt.

Good luck.

My employers were more often straining to find work than overworking us, so sometimes late pay was the condition. I also should have said I worked on campus projects, (not whole master plans) and the best projects came up while working for multi-disciplinary firms, not small solely-LA offices. But in that "big" realm expect to be one of the first "sidelines" they will lay off if things dry up.

What I don't think most students realize (although the recession may be helping with reality on this) is that even after decades of being trained and available, we are still in more or less a "mission field" and not considered essential in many regions. You will be practicing, but also furthering awareness and more or less "selling" LA the remainder of your life. That can be rewarding but "challenging," and may not be what someone just looking at the end product may be prepared or willing to take on.

Hey Lauren

I can only tell you of my experience: I started off as a landscape gardener and found a course in landscape design at the local horticultural college. Enjoyed that course so much that i looked into "a next step" which was a degree in LA so i went for it.

 

University was an awesome time in my life, being a little older i knuckled down into the course and loved the "possibilities" (like you) of what you could be designing. This kept me hooked and once i finished the course was very disappointed to find that there were no jobs and the possibilities of getting one were not looking good.

So i moved from England to Canada and for the first year the same thing. Now things are booming and their are a host of jobs avaliable and some pretty cool projects too (no highlines though) they are extremely few and far between and only the experienced firms and individuals would get a look in.

I guess my questions would be.

1, Are you able to relocate to a different country? (as the states doesnt seem to have alot going on right now for new graduates)

2, Would you be okay doing AUTOCAD drawings for the majority of your first few years?

3, Would you enjoy drawing up and creating planting plans etc?

If these three above are a yes i would suggest you have your answer as most firms require somebody with these skills, you have to want to them though otherwise you will find the profession when starting off to be "boring"

Dont be put off by anyone, its a great profession and creating spaces for people is definately what you will be doing whether its a park planting plan or a grading plan for a greenway pathway system. There are also a number of professions that stem off from this one, playground and site furniture design, town council positions etc. The list is endless

I got really lucky as i was running with my own projects from the get go, i realise that my situation is not the norm but i was keen and had the passion and bugged the firms out here constantly before one of them gave me a shot. The term "you can do anything if you want it bad enough" is a good one but i suppose your question is "Do i want it" which unfortunately only you can decide.

Cheers and good luck

 

You stated that there are not very many opportunities in the States here, and I'm wondering where you see there being more opportunities.  I just graduated in May of this year with my Bachelor's in Landscape Architecture form North Dakota State University.  I am more then willing to move for a job, I am fine with doing mostly AutoCad and planting plans, but look forward to growing into a more creative and responsible position.  Do you know of any growing firms?

You forgot to mention, if you can actually get a job as an entry-level CAD monkey.

I would suggest calling/emailing some local Landscape Architects or getting in touch with the local ASLA group. Then asking if you can visit their office to look at projects, possibly work shadow for part of a day, see what the day to day work is like, office culture, pay rates to expect, job security, travel demands, etc. You may learn some information by just grabbing lunch with some folks or in a phone call. I would look into the different types of firms that hire LA's and see if any of them match your personality or passions.

You will find that the day to day at any office in any career is not as glamorous as your imagination would lend you to believe. So keep that in mind. Good Luck.

Look into:

  • Landscape Architecture firms
  • Architecture Firms
  • Civil Engineering Firms
  • Park Districts
  • State Agencies
  • Municipalities
  • Design/Build Landscape Contractors(Most helpful if you find one that has LA's and not designers, usually higher end)

If you enjoy late hours and weekends for little or no overtime pay, a salary that teachers would laugh at, constant criticism of your work, a public who undervalues and misunderstands what you do for a living, way too much time doing CAD drawings and complete job insecurity; then landscape architecture is for you!

That being said, most days I like my job. Some days I LOVE IT! 

A landscape architect, is a broad field. I was in practice and will be again one day. I'm a visual artist and engineer. I've gone back to engineering due to the un-stability in the UK. I also work freelance and design gardens. It's good to specialize, touch base with all part of the discipline, and constantly download software that is required and for positions and do some training. YouTube has good examples.

R

I would say it's about passion. The pretty pictures are great to look at, but at the end of a hard day, you need to have the internal motivation to say "I'm doing this because I love it, and because what I do can have a positive impact." There is a high level of variety in the field, and if big, grand parks are what you want to do, then you need to be sure that you're willing to put in the time and effort it takes to get there, from school to internships to the time and effort it takes to land a job at firms that do that kind of work. That effort is not a cake walk by a long shot, but it is also not impossible.

A good way to start considering if this is for you is to talk to landscape architects in the real world, not on a forum. You will be able to get a sense of what LAs do, what makes them tick, and what it takes to make big projects like the ones you mentioned come to fruition. Research programs and the courses they offer to see if they interest you, especially the required ones like soils, plants, design theory, and grading. ASLA (if you don't know that acronym you soon will) does have an introduction to Landscape Architecture at asla.org/design. Expanding on what Leslie mentioned, you will spend a lot of time advocating for the profession, because it is not well known or valued everywhere (think: explaining the entire field to your relatives at the holidays and people you meet at parties).

I switched my major from the social sciences to landscape architecture and never looked back, because I love what I do and what I'm a part of, even when times are rough. I also think everyone in this profession knows someone who has left and couldn't be happier in their new line of work. I think it really comes down to how passionate you are about landscape architecture.

I'm young and early on in my career, but I think it helps to hear from people at all stages. I hope this comes off as eager and enthusiastic, and optimistic, but I know it's hard to gain inflection from the internet. Also, take everything you read in the forums with good cheer and a grain of salt.

You appear to be wise beyond your years Eleanor. The profession needs more young people like you. Thanks for giving an old fossil hope. 

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